Thursday, March 31, 2011

Commentary: Are the Black Newspapers Barking Up the Wrong Tree with Toyota?

Over the past 24 months Toyota has had it share of troubles from alleged sudden acceleration claims with several of their popular vehicles to a series of recalls related to other quality issues. With recall after recall, Toyota was no longer being seen as the perennial quality leader. In fact, Toyota’s new-vehicle sales slid last year, as other automakers were rebounding from the recession.

Fortunately for Toyota, both NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cleared the automaker of the alleged sudden acceleration issue. This acknowledgement by both government agencies literally cleared the automaker, putting the company in good graces again with the American buying public and the national media.

Ironically, Audi was levied with similar sudden acceleration claims in the eighties and it took nearly two decades for the German automaker sales to rebound..

Unlike Audi, Toyota took immediate action to nip this quality issue in the bud, making internal management changes and by setting precedence, adding a 2-year maintenance-free warranty on all-new Toyota (and Scion) vehicles to reassure customers of the Asian automakers commitment to building safe vehicles. So far, these two measures have worked, putting Toyota’s new-vehicle sales back on track again.

Now just as Toyota was making headway to move beyond their series of quality issues, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), which represents approximately 200 black newspapers, has called the automaker on the carpet for slighting them in a recent ad campaign. The association is taking the automaker to task for not placing an ad with the black newspapers thanking consumers for their loyalty during the automaker’s controversy over the safety of its vehicles.

One would assume that the automaker didn’t really appreciate their loyal black customer base. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s be honest is this issue with the NNPA about not respecting Toyota’s black customer base or the ad dollars the papers missed out on? Go figure?

On the surface it seems as though Toyota should have purchased an ad with the black newspapers, just as they did with some of the major mainstream papers. Just like with the black newspapers, the mainstream newspapers are depending on advertisers to keep them afloat, as consumers are shifting from print media to the latest e-social media tools to gather their news.

Although I’m one of the few in my generation who actually drives across town weekly to pick-up a black newspaper, since they continue to cover stories that are of interest to me, I represent the minority.

Conversely, due to the NNPA limited distribution outlets and the digital revolution, the black press, including myself, must remain relevant and continue to shift gears to connect with today’s high-tech demographic, while maintaining their shrinking non-digital base. Just think: when was the last time you read a newspaper (a black newspaper)?

Now while Toyota may have slighted the NNPA this time, they are one of the few automakers that have high-ranking African Americans in pivotal roles, a black-owned ad agency and are constantly supporting different initiatives in the community. This is more than what can be said for a number of automakers. Why aren’t the NNPA taking those automakers to task? Is the NNPA just looking for the low-hanging fruit?

Honestly, if the NNPA wants to be objective and really look out for the needs of the community they represent, they should have gone after close to 95 percent of the automakers two years ago, when the African American community was slighted on the lucrative government-run ‘Cash for Clunker Program.’

The government along with the automotive community set aside millions of marketing dollars to educate the general population (and Hispanic) consumers about the program and how they could take advantage of upwards of $4,500 in trade assistance to swap-out of their gas-guzzling clunkers for a new fuel-efficient ride.

Unfortunately, our community was left out in the dark in taking advantage of this free money. Where was the NNPA along with the entire black press in going after both the government (and the automotive community) for leaving our community in the dark?

The next time to your reading a black newspaper (or magazine), visiting a black-owned website, listening to your favorite urban morning show or watching BET or TV One, see which advertisers are really incognito? Is Toyota really the culprit or the low-hanging fruit for the NNPA?

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